I’m a Conservative Who Supports Bernie Sanders. Here’s Why.
Guest Post by Bill Norman
My name is Bill Norman. I’m a life-long conservative and I support Bernie Sanders. Here’s why:
Through a degree in Political Science from the liberal bastion of University of Wisconsin – Madison, I retained a belief in personal responsibility, reverence for the Constitution, and an unshaken faith in the power of government to stifle innovation. My flirtation with Conservatism started – as these stories often do – at that awkward stage between adolescence and adulthood. A well-meaning friend says “Hey, have you read The Fountainhead yet – there’s some really profound shit in there” – and with that, I fell down the rabbit-hole of Ayn Rand’s morally fraudulent pseudo-philosophy of Objectivism. For those who are uninitiated, Objectivism is the libertarian bible, a belief-system that argues for selfishness as a virtue. And like so many, I found myself lost in the mire of this McPhilosophy, expounding to all that would listen, “why Liberalism would be the death of our society!!”
It was through these leanings that I celebrated the “compassionate conservatism” of George W. Bush, mourned the tragedy of 9/11, and trusted in the justifications for our “intervention” in Iraq. Drowning in the leftist sea of Madison, WI., I proudly stuck to my guns while the bumper stickers around me protested “No more blood for oil!” I laughed at their ignorance. I knew that the world was more complicated than that – energy security is national security, and if we could deliver an Uncle Sam-sized dose of Democracy at the same time, were we not virtuous?
But as the years passed, cracks started to develop in the foundation of my convictions. In my beloved Wisconsin, our legislature passed a Constitutional amendment against Gay Marriage – one of those pet peeves of the right that never made ideological sense to me. I sought a logically consistent argument for how this fit with the party of personal responsibility and freedom from government tyranny, and found only electoral convenience. Governor Walker rose to power here, bringing with him the rage of the Tea Party – a group that knows the system is rigged against them, yet consistently fails to see that the rich oligarchs are the source of their misery. And with the Republicans sweeping to power in Wisconsin we saw a war against Civil Servants, gerrymandering that would make even the most cynical machine boss blush, an assault on our tradition of transparent government, and the dissolution of independent electoral oversight. Nationally, a trend of xenophobia aimed at immigrants, Muslims, and homosexuals has provided vulnerable scapegoat populations for the new right-wing to focus their frustration on.
In the midst of all of this, I asked myself “what does it mean to be a Conservative?” I reflected back on my role-model, Grandpa Russ, – whose belly-laughs and charitable nature provided the evidence that conservatism is a belief structure based in love. Would Grandpa Russ stand for minorities being lambasted for the purposes of political expediency? How would he feel about electoral districts being drawn in such a way as to stack the deck impossibly against the true voice of the people? Grandpa Russ believed in fair play, even if it didn’t work out in his favor. He spent his retirement working with disadvantaged minorities in our community, and every Friday served free meals to all that were in need. A life-long Republican, if he were alive today, he would no longer be welcome in the Party of Abe Lincoln.
The Republican Party of 2016 in no way advocates for Conservatism in America any longer. Eisenhower’s 1960 Civil Rights Act would be lost on a party that dispenses with due process, advocates for curtailing religious freedom, and believes that torture doesn’t diminish international prestige. Where the Republican Party once governed with a top marginal tax rate of 90%, they now claim 39% is “soaking” the rich. And all the while, they force austerity on our educational institutions, and claim ownership of the word Patriot, challenging any application of it to some standing in the way of funding military hardware. Pay the Pentagon indeed, but ignore the wounded warriors wasting away at Walter Reed. And on that subject, the reckless push to deliver Democracy to a sovereign nation by force stands in sharp contrast to Ike’s proclamation to “hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”
Growing up in 1980’s America, I was told that the thing that separated us from the godless Communists was this silver shrine of Democracy, a sacred principle worth giving your life to preserve. And while the Democratic Party hasn’t always been an ally to this cause, the current Republican Party has transformed America into an oligarchy. We live in a nation where the politicians choose their voters, and where a corporation’s right to free speech overrides our individual right to have a government “for the people, by the people.” And while I can’t excuse President Obama for continuing these shameful practices, I won’t forgive George W. Bush for the implementation of “Free Speech Zones,” endless incarceration without due process at Guantanamo Bay, and the wholesale rape of privacy at the hands of the NSA. Democracy in America is dying, and a pox on both houses for their contributions.
How things have changed over the years, since those halcyon days of the Cold War. Without the spectre of the Soviets, it seems the Republican Party has shifted its focus from communism to the common man. If he were alive today, what would a good man like Grandpa Russ do? He worked with his hands his entire life, held principle and integrity as his highest ideals, and would never stand for a system rigged against the honest. I have to expect he would vote for Bernie Sanders, a socialist Jew from Brooklyn.
Picturing a man who listened to conservative talk radio voting for an avowed Democratic Socialist requires flexibility of mindset, but I don’t think it’s far-fetched. It’s a tough sell to ask an adherent of ANY ideology to be open to an argument that runs counter to all that you’ve believed. Grandpa Russ – an adequate stand-in for the average conservative American – was not that far off from his counter-part on the left. The average American – regardless of party affiliation – is concerned about wage stagnation, where incomes have not kept pace with inflation. They’re worried about making sure their kids get to school safely, receive a quality education, and have a fair chance to access higher education and quality jobs afterward. Americans of all stripes want moral authority and respect on the global stage, and would appreciate a peaceful resolution to our differences with other countries and cultures. Excepting either side’s lunatic fringe, a clear majority of Americans have a similar view of where we’d like to be – we just disagree on how to get there.
So why does too much of America look like the 3rd World? Why have Detroit and Oakland become places where we can’t even maintain street lights, no less a police response under an hour? How is it that Californians are being asked to ration their water in the same state where corporate headquarters keep fountains flowing? Shouldn’t we be shocked that FEMA justifies its lack of response to the poisoned water of Flint, MI by hiding behind a mandate to relieve NATURAL disasters – as opposed to government disasters? How is it that China has trains that look like this, and our trains look like this?
The answer is that establishment Republicans and Democrats have kept us distracted in the midst of a bank-heist on a scale nearly impossible to measure. They’ve manufactured controversies in the fields of reproductive rights, gay marriage and guns as a pawn to keep us invested in supporting “our team” – but we never made the team in the first place. At best, we were invited to try-outs so the Alpha kids could laugh at us. Don’t let me be misunderstood, human rights, guns and other wedge topics are important issues that deserve attention and resolution. But they pale in comparison to the theft of our very democracy at the hands of the ultra-wealthy. The very same suffering that creates consternation for radical socialists and Tea-Party Republicans shares a root cause – that we have been disenfranchised by a system that allows corporations and the elite to buy elections.
In 2016, there is one candidate that has staked his entire campaign on restoring Democracy and countering the lunatic fringe of wealth-holders. I still believe in personal responsibility, and I worry that if we go too far, we could incentivize failure. I want to live in an America where common-sense tells me to wear a seat-belt, not an officer with a gun. I want the continued right to carry on my proud Wisconsin heritage and engage in our annual deer hunt with the weapon of my choice. My beliefs may have evolved, but I still proudly carry the mantle of true conservatism. In a plural society, I know that the price I pay for Democracy is that I may not always get my way – and I’m willing to sacrifice if it means we get our country back. Countless soldiers have given their lives to defend the idea of America, so what does it cost us to give way on some of our wish-list? A vote for Bernie Sanders will enshrine as inviolable the rights of a man to love another man, and I know that some Republicans shudder at the idea. But is it not better to have an America where your beliefs and vote have an actual impact in that national debate? A Sanders victory will codify the momentum being built towards a mandate for health care as a right, and many of my conservative friends couldn’t disagree more. Surely they can understand that their voices on this topic are not currently being heard – a vote to restore Democracy is the logical step toward victory.
Bernie Sanders is not a panacea against all that ails our society. He has said from the beginning of his campaign that he is here to ignite the fire of a political revolution – a movement to mobilize everyday Americans to demand accountability from our political establishment. There are plenty of arguments that dismiss Sanders – he’s too old, he won’t have a compliant Congress, the people won’t tolerate a Socialist, et al. These criticisms miss the point – Bernie is a rallying point, a symbol of the progress Americans are clamoring for. Bernie Sanders stands in defense of the common American, and speaks to an anger common to both progressives and the average Trump supporter. America is demanding democracy, and the groundswell of support for Bernie Sanders is how we move towards reclaiming it. Once we have a government accountable to Americans again, we can re-engage on the points we disagree upon. What is the point in arguing if our voices aren’t even heard in the first place? While Donald Trump has channeled the anger and frustration of the disaffected into a frothy rage, Bernie has kept a positive message of the future we can share in – a future that includes all of us. I believe in personal responsibility, democracy, self-determination, capitalism and the creation of the greatest society on this planet. I firmly believe that electing Bernie Sanders is the conservative thing to do.
Bill Norman holds a B.S. in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and is the owner of Earthlight of Wisconsin and Gorham Street Productions. He travels regularly to Indonesia in furtherance of his research into the impacts of Lassez-faire governance in developing nations.